Women Leaving the Christian Patriarchy Movement Behind
I’d been branded with the scarlet letter. They had called me a Jezebel, which is the Christian patriarchy way of calling a woman a whore. The guilt and the shame clung to me like a bad smell, while I tried to figure out what I had done wrong this time. Was it the fact that I had said a string of swear words when my knee buckled beneath me? Was the split in my ankle-length skirt too high? Did someone find out I had secretly gotten the ends of my hair trimmed?
I had been in the bathroom throwing up, miserable with all-day morning sickness, pregnant again just two months after giving birth to my first child. They told me that my sin was that I had given the baby to my husband to take care of at church while I threw up. I was a woman, and I was supposed to take care of the baby all by myself and not to expect his help. After all, he was a man, and as such he had far more important things to do and worry about than taking care of his child.
I had also made the mistake of asking the pastor a question in Sunday school when he had asked if anyone had any questions. He had told me he would not be answering any of my questions because the Bible said that a woman was to be silent in the church and if she wanted to know something, she had to quietly ask her husband at home. I had then asked him what I was supposed to do if my husband didn’t know the answer, to which he had replied that my husband was to come and ask him, and then he would decide if he wanted me to have the answer or not. But to seek knowledge outside of asking my husband was sin, and my husband was to decide what I was allowed to know and what I was not allowed to know.
I was deeply ashamed and frustrated. After all, the other women seemed to recognize their “place” in the world, as subordinate to their husbands, or to their fathers if unmarried. They seemed to take joy and delight in it, while I was miserable. I figured that there had to be something wrong with me, because I was secretly jealous of the women who wore jeans and cute shirts, who could cut and dye their hair into any style they wanted, even if it was short, for the women who got to go to college. I wondered why God gave me a mind that wanted to learn if he had forbidden women going to college. Was I his great cosmic joke? I became convinced that God had created me specifically to mess up my life, to give me desires that I was not allowed to fulfil, just so that he could have something to laugh about.
Finally, when I became pregnant with my fourth child in five years, I realized that I did not have to live like this, and left the Christian patriarchy movement. The fall-out and subsequent detoxing from having been in a cult was hard for me, and so often I thought I was alone. However, as I read more and more on the internet, I met other women who had been brave, risking everything in order to escape the movement. One of the courageous women I met through this was Anne. She says she constantly worried that she wasn’t good enough for God. “I was always told what an awful person I was, and I would cry myself to sleep some nights because I was afraid I wasn’t good enough to get into heaven.” Anne said.
Women in Christian patriarchy are expected to obey a man for their entire lives. If they are not married, they are to obey their father, no matter how old they are. If they have no father, they are to obey their brother or closest male relative. Once they are married, they are to obey their husbands. This is why Anne was still living at home as a grown woman even though she hated it and had so many doubts. When Anne left the Christian patriarchy movement, she lost her entire family, except for a married brother, because they cut her off. Her family believes that she cut them off. “My dad told me that if I moved out, they would cut me off. It was his thought that if I moved out, it would essentially be me cutting myself off from them, because he explained the consequences to me, therefore it would be my fault if I went through with it.” Anne says.
As much as I wish it weren’t so, Anne and I are not the only women that were victims of the Christian patriarchy movement. Sarah left the movement after she got married. She describes her leaving process as a gradual one, although that can probably be said for all the women that have been in the movement and then left. Sarah said that when she wasn’t pregnant within a few weeks of her marriage, that her parents began to harass her about refusing to obey God regarding reproduction. She was expected to get pregnant right away because not using any kind of birth control is part of the Christian patriarchy movement’s beliefs.
This particular belief, that one should leave their family size up to God and not use birth control for any reason, is called “Quiverfull”, which is a name taken from some Bible verses in the Psalms which say: “Lo, children are an heritage of the Lord: and the fruit of the womb is his reward. As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them: they shall not be ashamed, but they shall speak with the enemies in the gate.”
Being brought up in the Christian patriarchy movement was very hard for Sarah. “My childhood diary is full of self-hatred. I literally hated everything about myself. I cut myself from around age 13 – 17 and attempted suicide more than once. In my diary I often mention how much God hates me.” Sarah said. Self-hatred, self-harm, panic attacks, eating disorders and suicidal thoughts and attempts are unfortunately common themes surrounding the women who have left Christian patriarchy behind. Many women require years of therapy and psychiatric medication as a result of being in this movement. Self-esteem is discouraged as pride in Christian patriarchy, so women who have left the movement first need to learn that they are valuable and that they are amazing.
I also met Caitlin, a savvy young grad student, who is going against everything she was ever taught by living with her fiancé before marriage. Caitlin says that she first doubted patriarchy when she was hit with the realization that there were no other paths in life open to her except that of being a wife and a stay at home mother. Since she didn’t have the desire to do either of those things (although she has since changed her mind on becoming a wife), she couldn’t believe that God had created all women exclusively for that role. Caitlin said “the patriarchy movement instils self-doubt in women, teaching them that their own innate sense of fairness, justice and love are false and that rigid hierarchical structures are true.”
One of the consequences of leaving Christian patriarchy has been the breakdown of family ties. Families in this movement have no use for women who refuse to obey the men in their lives instead of being their own independent person. Yet strong and courageous women are deciding that their freedom and their futures are important, and are making their way out of the movement.
The Christian patriarchy movement is alive and well in several conservative Christian denominations, although mostly in the Reformed circles of Christianity. Libby Anne,* another Christian patriarchy movement survivor, believes that Christian patriarchy and conservative right-wing politics go hand in hand. Republican Party presidential candidate in 2008, Mike Huckabee, signed a declaration endorsing wifely submission in 1998. Many of the Republicans have been making sexist statements this election cycle, such as Republican senate nominee Todd Akin who claimed that women who are raped will not get pregnant because their bodies have a way of shutting the whole thing down.
“To people like my father, Christianity and Republican politics go hand in hand. My mother often says that you cannot be a Christian and a Democrat at the same time.” Sarah said. She also said that those in the Christian patriarchy movement as a whole tend to believe that liberals are all angry Atheists who are out to murder babies via abortion, crazy feminists who want to tear down God’s natural order of male headship in the home, take away parental rights to home-school or spank their children, and usher in “godless” socialism.
Caitlin said “I believe that the patriarchy movement and conservative politics have become inextricable. This is unfortunate because conservative ideology is more powerful than patriarchy alone, so taking over conservative political parties is a powerful strategy for patriarchy to spread itself.” Alisa Harris, in her book “Raised Right: How I Untangled my Faith from Politics” says that she had been picketing abortion clinics and Republican political rallies since before she could walk. She describes in this book how politics gave her faith meaning, how she felt that it expressed her faith, and how she had been taught that conservative politics would make America a godly nation. She says that she viewed faith and politics as one and the same.
Anne, Sarah, Caitlin and I are all thankful for the internet, because reading things on the internet was where we all found out that there were women who lived happy, fulfilling lives outside of Christian patriarchy. We wanted that happiness, and so we kept reading, enthralled with the idea that we could do anything that we wanted to. We could go to university, we could have a career, we could join the military, or we could be a mom. Or, we could do a combination of any of those things or more. The internet expanded our world.
Apart from an informational tool, the internet was also a healing tool, as we began to network with each other, and talk and write about our experiences. “One of the biggest healing tools for me has been blogging. Writing about my experiences and reading about the experiences of others like me helped me tremendously,” Sarah said. Anne said that blogging her thoughts also helped a lot, and Caitlin and I have a blogs too where we have worked out what we believe.
We are survivors of the Christian patriarchy movement and all the abuses it bestowed upon us for the simple “crime” of being born female. While some of us are forever labelled as “Jezebels” (after a rebellious queen named Jezebel in the Bible who was thrown out of a window and eaten by dogs because of her rebellion), it’s time that the world knows what we went through, and what thousands of women continue to go through. Many women never realize they have choices, because many are born into the movement.
We were told that we were wicked just because we were born girls, that we were whores and out to seduce men. They made us feel ashamed of our bodies, they made us cover our bodies up in long skirts and baggy shirts, or ugly home-made dresses, and then they blamed us when their own lust got then into trouble. We were told that we were weak, that we were not capable of thinking for ourselves, and therefore we must have a man do our thinking for us, make our decisions for us, and tell us what to do. They told us that we did not need an education because the only thing we were fit to do was to be a “homemaker”.
I and many others were told that our rape was our fault because of what we were wearing, or because we didn’t scream when it happened. We were told that the depression we were suffering with wasn’t a big deal and was just a case of “unrepentant sin” and that if we would stop being so rebellious, we wouldn’t be depressed. Our voices were not heard; nobody cared what we had to say, because we were ‘just’ women.
But after leaving the movement, we learned the truth about who we are. We are valuable, we are precious, and we are loved. We are smart; we are beautiful, our voices matter. Our identity is in ourselves, not in a man or in how many children we have.
The Christian patriarchy movement is alive and well all across America and Australia and around the world. In fact, the Christian patriarchy movement may well be thriving right in your own back yard.
*Not her real name.
 1 Corinthians 14:35
 Psalm 127:3-5 King James Version
 Kathryn Joyce, Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement, (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 2009), 34.
 ibid., 35
 McMorris-Santoro, Evan. Republican Senate Nominee: Victims of ‘Legitimate Rape’ Don’t Get Pregnant, TPM, August 19, 2012.
 Alisa Harris, Raised Right: How I Untangled my Faith from Politics, (Colorado Springs, CO: WaterBrook Press, 2011), 5